Friday, December 28, 2001
County Counsel Should Be Removed From Leadership of Risk Management Program, Consultant Tells Board
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The Board of Supervisors has been advised to pull county lawyers out of a program meant to control legal liabilities that are approaching $60 million a year and, with workers’ compensation losses, nearly $300 million.
Risk management offices that are now scattered around the county should be consolidated but should not be headed by the County Counsel’s Office, which should restrict itself to representing the county in settlement negotiations and defending it in court, according to a consultant’s report.
The report, by Warren, McVeigh & Griffin, Inc., raised sharp objections from County Counsel Lloyd Pellman, who warned against excluding lawyers from their charter mandate to advise departments on preventing liability and correcting risky practices.
“If and when a centralized risk management administration is established, care must be taken to assure that its functions are implemented in a way which is not only consistent with both the full advisory and litigation management functions of County Counsel, but is also coordinated through the Office of County Counsel in all situations here necessary to fully protect the legal interests of the County and the Board of Supervisors,” Pellman wrote.
The report, forwarded Dec. 19 to the board by Auditor-Controller J. Tyler McCauley, was the second part of a study originally commissioned by the board in September 2000. After the findings and recommendations were filed in May, the board asked the consultant to further study the county counsel’s claims, litigation and settlement processes.
Local governments have been plagued by a huge upsurge in payouts, as claims have mounted against law enforcement. Los Angeles County, which operates one of the nation’s largest health care systems, also has been hit by increases in medical malpractice claims. Workers’ compensation losses also have risen drastically over the last several years.
The problem was somewhat veiled during the economic boom the nation has enjoyed over the last five years. But the recession has put the need for liability reform on the front burner.
County officials have sought to get a handle on liabilities by creating a centralized Risk Management Administration to handle functions currently divided among the Chief Administrative Office, the Department of Human resources and, to some degree, each of the county’s departments.
Pellman has backed the program and has encouraged efforts to turn over administrative duties to an experienced risk manager.
But the recommendations by Warren McVeigh would see the County Counsel’s Office give up its management of “corrective action plans”—marching orders for county departments to avoid continuing to make the same mistakes that resulted in costly claims. The new risk manager, and not the county counsel, would report to the board on how well changes in risky county behavior are implemented.
The risk manager should also take the place of county counsel in overseeing the work of third-party administrators in correcting behavior, the consultant recommended.
The role of government lawyers in risk management has been the subject of much discussion among academics and administrators. Some argue that lawyers should have a greater presence in the process, to streamline and unify the process of preventing and defending against claims.
In the city of Los Angeles, for example, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo recently asked for funding to hire more lawyers to combat fraudulent employee workers’ compensation claims and improve the city’s risk management program. Placing lawyers with experience litigating claims in the thick of department operations would better identify risky practices and allow the lawyers to advise how to prevent them, Delgadillo has argued.
But as risk management has gained adherents as a specialized discipline, critics have argued that lawyers with litigation background are poorly equipped to take on what they argue is an entirely different function.
The Board of Supervisors is expected to take up the risk management issue—and the county counsel’s role in it—early next year.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company